The rolling freedom of two wheels

During the month of April The Observer on Sunday is looking at ways we all can be “greener.” Here Eugene Bonthuys explains why a bike wins out over a car.

Few things in life can ever match the feeling of freedom experienced when you take your first bicycle down the street on your own, with your parents looking on. You truly feel that you can leave all your troubles far behind, in as much as the average six year old has troubles.

Yet this love affair with the bicycle is often abandoned the moment you get your first car or even the keys to your dad’s car.

Others like myself cling to that escapist freedom that only a bicycle can provide.

The two faces of cycling

My cycling life has two personalities, which can probably best be described as the Clark Kent/Superman syndrome.

During the week, I occasionally take up the bike for a commute to work (although not nearly as often as I should, but more on that later) – my cycling version of Clark Kent. Yet the weekend sees me don bright lycra cycling kit (see where the Superman reference comes in?) to go out cycling with a group of equally demented speed demons.

The one is all about being practical, green, and just a little bit cheap, while the other is, to be honest, the attempt of a 30-something male to recapture the exhilaration of that first bike ride. Does it work? You bet it does.

Early on a Saturday or Sunday morning, you can often spot groups of cyclists navigating the roads of the Eastern Districts. With flat roads and minimal traffic early on a weekend morning, Cayman is a great place to take up cycling.  It is an excellent low impact sport (as long as you stay upright at least) and one of the best ways to burn calories. Keep in mind that even if you take to the roads early in the morning you still need to stay hydrated, so be certain to have a water bottle or two on your bike. If the trek around East End seems somewhat extreme for beginners, it is easy to build up to it slowly. The rewards are numerous. Apart from losing weight and developing the kind of legs that can make a prize stallion blush, you get to experience nature and see the Island in a way that is just not possible from the confines of a car.

However, I know you are burning to ask a question… what’s up with those shorts?

Well, spend enough time in the saddle, and things can get a little bit uncomfortable. Cycling shorts have built-in padding for a slightly more cushy ride, while the tight lycra prevents it from chafing. Trust me, one bad case of cycling in regular shorts will have you abandoning dignity in favour of comfort very quickly. Of course, the shorts also show of those chiselled legs we mentioned earlier to much greater effect.

Cayman’s cycling community is very open and friendly, with many experienced cyclists who will freely share their knowledge and opinions (whether you ask for it or not!)

Clark Kent
Whether in an attempt to be environmentally aware or to save on fuel so you have more money to spend on your weekend cycling gear, commuting to work by bicycle is a winner.

You save money, get exercise and get to sweep by all those drivers stuck in the perpetually motionless traffic of a George Town rush hour.

Although the idea of feeling the wind in your hair during your morning commute might sound attractive, a cycling helmet should always be worn, no matter what type of cycling you are doing.

As someone who has landed on my head more often than I care to remember (many of my friends will say that it shows) the fact that I can remember all the times I have done so is testament to the value of wearing a helmet.

While on the subject of safety, remember that as a cyclist you are difficult to spot out on the road, especially when compared to a Hummer or a lowered Honda with illegal blue headlamps. Always have lights on your commuting bike, as you never know when you might end up spending longer at the office than you intended. Bright clothing helps, as do reflectors, but both those rely on the other party having lights. A white light in front and a red one in the back is a cheap investment when compared to paying your health insurance excess.

Yet I mentioned earlier that I do not commute as often as I should. The reasons have nothing to do with traffic (I’ve cycled in worse) or the quality of the roads or drivers (once again, I have dealt with worse elsewhere in the world). The biggest challenge faced by bicycle commuters is a lack of facilities at their places of work (you know, where you spend the five days between weekend training sessions).

Commuting by bicycle can be heavy going, especially in warm and humid weather, which means you arrive at the office thoroughly soaked. If there are no shower facilities available, you and your co-workers might soon start doubting whether reducing our reliance on fossil fuel is worth the cruel and unusual punishment of spending a day confined in a shared office space with you. There is also a limit to the amount of deodorant you can use before it negates the effects of not burning fossil fuel on your commute.

Locker facilities are also important, as this provides a convenient place to store and air cycling gear. Wet cycling gear stuffed in a backpack under your desk can accomplish in a matter of hours what a wet Labrador would take days to accomplish.

A secure storage facility for your prized steed is also vital. A good lock makes a big difference, but if you use an unbreakable lock and then attach it to a very breakable young tree… well, you get my point.

Know your place
Now on to my pet peeve… other cyclists.

No matter how much cyclists in general stick to the rules of the road, it takes one idiot to spoil everyone’s reputation. So here are the basics:

-Cycle with traffic, not against it

-Stay off the sidewalk (no matter what drivers might scream at you, that is not where you belong)

-Stop at stop signs and red traffic lights

-Ride as close to the side of the road as is safe

-Keep an eye out for pedestrians

The more cyclists stick to the rules, the more likely we are to gain the respect of our fellow road users.

Whether for fun or as a contribution to making Cayman that little bit more green, just get out and ride.

Cayman’s unique cycling hazards:

Why did the chicken cross the road? No one really knows, but they always seem to be in a hurry to do so, so be on the lookout.

They might look like slow moving creatures, but once an iguana gets kamikaze thoughts into its head it can move with great speed and become quite a hazard.

I kid you not – not only can they scare you into a ditch, but the shards of their crushed exoskeletons are razor sharp and can easily cause a puncture.

I haven’t had a problem with these yet, but they’re big, they’re heavy, and I’m certain it’s only a matter of time. Another good reason to wear a helmet though.